By Mary Wisniewski
(Reuters) - In a bit of rare positive news in a nation focused on the effects of gun violence, a police memorial fund reported Monday that deaths among law enforcement personnel are down 20 percent this year compared with 2011.
The preliminary report by the Washington, D.C.-based National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that a total of 123 federal, state and local officers died in the line of duty through December 17, 2012, with 45 from firearms-related deaths, 50 from traffic-related deaths, and 28 from other causes.
That compares with 154 officers who died during the same period in 2011, including 65 from firearms-related deaths. Total deaths are down 20 percent and gun deaths down 31 percent.
The Fund credits an increased focus on safety for the drop in deaths, according to spokesman Steve Groeninger. This includes more officers choosing to wear body armor, which can offer some protection in traffic accidents as well as against bullets. Body armor does not always save lives.
"I think agency heads are doing more to manage their departments to make sure each of the men and women make it home at the end of their shifts," said Groeninger.
A study released last month by the D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum found that 92 percent of a nationally representative sample of police officers are required to wear body armor, either all or most of the time when on duty. In 2009, only 59 percent of police agencies required officers to wear body armor at least some of the time.
The massacre last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which resulted in the deaths of 26 people, including 20 children, has refocused national debate on gun control. The shooter also took his own life and that of his mother.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was greeted with applause from city police officers at a graduation and promotion ceremony Monday when he called for a local and national ban on assault weapons.
Groeninger said the Memorial Fund does not have a public stated policy on assault weapons.
"But I will say that our organization supports every and any policy that we keep officers more safe as they do their jobs," Groeninger said. "It can be easily understood that removing those types of weapons would certainly help law enforcement. They've been facing increased firepower."
The Fund's report broke down fatalities by state, with Texas ranking number one in law enforcement officer deaths with 9 in 2012, followed by Georgia with 7.
The 2012 total includes the deaths in Topeka, Kansas Sunday of two officers at a grocery store parking lot. The suspect was killed in a shoot-out with police Monday morning.
(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Kansas; editing by Andrew Hay)